5 Mins With ... Sarah Smith, Head of Migrations at ENSEK
What was it like when you started at ENSEK?
Four years ago, I had my first meeting with ENSEK. At the time, it was a small tech company in Nottingham that had recently started offering Software as a Service (SaaS) to new entrant energy suppliers. I was drawn by the opportunity to work with exciting new market entrants, whom I had heard much about, but not been able to work with. As a Management Consultant, I had spent my career supporting large retailers through customer service change programmes. I made the leap to technology and I love it.
How has the market changed since?
The energy market in the UK has gone through a huge transformation. The new entrants, who have survived, haven’t just shaken up the industry through innovative products and customer service - their reliance on SaaS providers, such as ENSEK, has shown how effective and efficient front and back-office functions can be. The biggest players in the UK and globally are looking to move to cloud-based SaaS providers to remain competitive. The last four years has kicked off a digital transformation across the UK energy sector, and it has been thrilling to be a part of that.
How do you encourage women to take up more tech roles?
As ENSEK has grown, I have also been able to influence some of the decisions we have taken around inclusion. As a working parent, I am passionate about ensuring that the most talented remain in the workforce and are given opportunities to grow and further their careers, regardless of their backgrounds or caring commitments. We have improved our maternity policy and now have best-in-class packages for parents, and challenge our leadership to think about how to improve talent retention, flexibility for all staff, and how to remove unconscious bias from decision making. Culture is a key focus for us as we grow and operate remotely through COVID.
Many businesses might still struggle with creating a supportive place of work for women, particularly mothers. There are tendencies, often unconscious ones, to put more pressure on women to do the ‘glue work’ and greater expectations regarding performance with a lack of understanding of potential family responsibilities. This is a particular concern for parents who are currently home-schooling. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that ‘flexibility’ doesn’t become another word for ‘burn-out’ as parents teach their children during the day and catch up through the night. All employers need to look for innovative solutions to maintain a happy, healthy workforce.
How do you think barriers can be overcome?
Supporting diversity of thought and approach, listening to opinions, ignoring how people look and sound, and paying attention to what they have to say is one way to start – businesses should recruit for ‘add’ rather than ‘fit’. This could be manifested by coaching and mentoring by leadership. These are great to offer all employees and, when done well, can work both ways as it helps leaders to understand the barriers and challenges faced by junior staff, particularly women and the BAME community.
Furthermore, organisations need to offer shared parental leave and encourage all parents to take it – equality at work does not happen until there is equality at home. In addition, there needs to be increased support with back to work schemes for women in technology, who have taken time out to have children. The pace of change in technology is fast and even after a few years out, a return can seem daunting.
Does the pandemic offer a fresh start?
Many businesses and organisations could benefit from rethinking socials and networking events. Although it is in our best interest to meet with like-minded people and build better working relationships, many workers struggle to attend. Luckily, the recent mass move to largely digital communication can help leaders come up with more innovative ways to network virtually.
Although the discussion around women in tech has been on the agenda for a few years now, I believe there is still a lot we can all do to encourage more female leaders and employees. If we want to achieve truly diverse and excelling workforces, we have to embark on this challenging but satisfying journey.
Harnessing AI intelligence to maximise energy procurement
Global companies should be sitting on the forefront of sustainability and renewable energy procurement. Encouragingly, research from PwC revealed that the majority of UK business leaders intend to increase their long-term investments in sustainability initiatives as they grow concerned about the impact of climate change. In addition, nearly 50% of Fortune 500 companies have already set sustainability and renewable energy targets.
For procurement leaders, their goal for 2021 is clear: find the best value for their company while continuing to transition to high-quality renewable energy sources. Fortunately, the evolution of new technologies is making the process simpler and more transparent than ever before. Procurement leaders can harness an artificial intelligence (AI) to identify opportunities in the quickly evolving renewable energy market, while safeguarding their businesses’ current renewable portfolio. So, how can procurement leaders implement AI intelligence within their operations to improve business outcomes?
Determine energy suitability in real-time
The tricky part for many procurement teams is staying on top of the continuously evolving renewables market, which is made up of disparate systems and a diverse range of providers. To identify the most suitable energy options for your business, the key is to integrate both historical data, such as existing purchasing workflows, with real-time data from the local and global renewables market. For example, AI algorithms can combine existing data sets, through simple API-based data integrations, with external data sets to provide a single view of the renewable energy ecosystem. Then, as new opportunities arise within the market, your AI technologies will cross reference with historical data to quantify suitability, particularly in regard to your company’s specific budgets and timelines – saving significant time spent on manual research, RFPs, and handling costly errors.
Harness predictive intelligence for data-driven decision making
After a year of budgets being scrutinised and leaders being tasked to do more with less, building a clear view of all potential outcomes is vital for any renewable energy investment. When identifying the most cost-effective suppliers, AI algorithms will utilise historical data relating to electricity demand, energy generation, and fuel prices to predict price forecasts across markets. Machine-learning algorithms also correlate sensor and climatic data to predict energy needs according to seasonal variations, as well as align energy demand with grid load and outages. In addition, sophisticated AI models will analyse supply and demand by simulating price dynamics and economic events, providing the commercial implications of various scenarios. Altogether these capabilities enable procurement teams to clearly see the existing and potential results, enabling informed and risk-adverse decision making.
Minimise risk in energy purchasing
Traditionally, PPAs encourage buyers to use only one supplier – meaning organisations tend to rely on low risk, high volume providers. But this approach often takes months of manual research and RFPs. However, by implementing AI technologies, procurement teams can standardise the energy acquisition process to maintain a more dynamic and diverse energy portfolio. AI algorithms, for example, can produce the perfect provision of green energy from low-risk high-volume suppliers, while standardising partial fulfilment agreements with independent initiatives and new developments, furthering the positive impact of public sector green energy investment across the growing renewable grid. In turn, by grouping PPAs and automating the complex legal workflow, procurement teams will save a magnitude of time, money and personnel
Demystify the outcome of renewables investments
To ensure there is no obscurity around the actual output of each energy investment, procurement teams should harness AI models to manage and measure their investment portfolio. Real-time intelligence can be delivered both quantitatively, with reportable checklist-style scoring, and qualitatively, with a more in-depth commentary on progress. Outcomes can then be cross-referenced across inter-connected targets to deliver short-term and long-term insight, and to report to the relevant parties, enabling a more transparent and accountable approach to emissions reporting.
The business case for adopting renewable energy is becoming clearer on a daily basis, with the climate emergency more urgent than ever. As such, pressure will not ease on procurement to lead their organisation to a more sustainable future that is underpinned by renewable energy. While this may seem like a ‘nice to have’ for many businesses, it is certainly achievable. A recent example includes the tech giant, Facebook, successfully reaching its target to power its global operations entirely on renewable energy. Now, the company can focus on reaching net-zero emissions across its entire value chain by 2030.
Looking ahead, it is important that organisations pursue their own unique sustainability journey – and a lot of that responsibility and accountability will lie with procurement teams.
With intelligent capabilities underpinned by AI technologies , renewable energy procurement can be simpler and more transparent than ever before. In 2021, procurement leaders should harness AI capabilities to gain a single view of the quickly evolving renewable energy market, aligning this with their own business operations. Only then will they be able to make data-driven decisions while effectively managing risks and costs. This level of insight will also be vital for procurement leaders to prove that they are truly driving impactful results for their company.
Muhammad Malik is CEO and Founder of NeuerEnergy